The Oneiroi were black-winged daimons that personified dreams. Daimons, later called daemons by the Romans, are not to be confused with the evil demons mentioned in the Bible; these were simply gods or spirits that were less powerful than the gods of the Greek pantheon, such as Zeus. Depending on the myth, these spirits were the sons of the god of sleep, Hypnos, or sometimes even the goddess of night, Nyx. The three most well-known daimons were Morpheus, Phobetor, and Phantasos, who were all brothers.
The brothers lived in the caves in a part of the underworld where they emerged each night like bats. They passed through two gates of horn and ivory, symbolizing dreams sent from the gods, and dreams that were meaningless.
Each brother had a distinct ability that set them apart from one another.
Morpheus was considered the leader of the group of the Oneiroi, and appeared to be the strongest of the three. He appeared in the dreams of kings. In these dreams, he was able to take on the image of humans and give messages from the gods. His name means “shape.”
Phobetor, the god of nightmares, also had the ability to appear in dreams; however, he chose to show up in the form of an animal or even a monster. He often played on people’s greatest fears. His real name amongst the gods was Icelus, meaning “semblance” or appearance. A word you’ve probably heard before comes from his name. The word “phobia”, which means extreme fear, was directly inspired by this ancient spirit.
The last of the brothers, Phantasos, was the god of unreal dreams. He represented objects seen in dreams by the Greeks as a message from the gods, appearing as symbols such as rocks, wood, earth or even water. These symbols had deeply religious meanings to the Greeks. Phantasos also ruled over good dreams, the exact opposite of his brother, Phobetor; despite this, his dreams were usually meant to confuse people. The word “fantasy” comes from his name.
English, Latin, Spanish, French, Arabic and many other languages have words that are inspired by ancient Greek myths. The daimons, like other figures in Greek mythology, continue to have an influence on books, television shows, films and other media. The character Morpheus from the Matrix is one example. Can you think of any other figures in popular media today that share the names of daimons or other Greek gods?
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